New user onboarding; for many IT professionals, such a rote task that it almost doesn’t seem worth discussing. New hire, new user, new computer, new account, blah blah blah… It’s as if we’re discussing proposed improvements to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. How much more could there possibly be?
The answer is, of course, “much more”.
One of my favorites phrases is this: “Success is found at the margin.” Just when you think a marginal, seemingly inconsequential task is nailed down – some hotshot comes along with a better way of doing things. Pretty soon, they’re wringing time, money, and productivity out of marginal processes which have been neglected by others for years – and they outcompete everyone else in ways nobody expected.
New user onboarding is one such marginal process in which the ceiling for excellence is almost limitless – so long as you’re willing to put in the work up-front to build the process, and update the process as needed to keep it functional and relevant. Below are 3 tips based on my personal experience with new user processes in which you can improve your new user onboarding processes starting without delay:
1. Standardize the Request.
Requests for new users shouldn’t be casual and off-the-cuff; the request should be completed in a process which is consistent and covers all requirements / user info. When ordering a steak in a fine restaurant, you don’t just ask for a steak and wait to make requests on it’s preparation until after it’s come out to the table; you make your specifications up front. “Steak, medium-rare, with garlic butter and rosemary.”
The principle is the same for your new users. In my experience, the best way to do this is with a standard new user request form – have the requester fill out a form (electronic or paper) with the necessary info to build the new user accounts, all of the software/hardware requirements, file share accesses, distribution group membership, and so on. If all of this can be delineated in advance, you can have new users ready to hit the ground running from day one – rather than forcing the client to wait a week while a clumsy IT department gets everything cobbled together.
2. Standardize computer preparation.
At the risk of overusing the word “standardize” only halfway through the article… it’s not uncommon for unfocused or simply lazy IT departments to not really have any standard methods by which they prepare a computer for a user. Just grab a PC from out of a box or a dusty pile, power it on, and hand it over after a few quick application installs.
This may not cause problems right away, but it’s the type of practice that can cause major problems later. The key to maintaining a stable user workstation experience is to know how each PC is already configured. If a new Windows update rolls out and halts half of your users from accessing major business applications, where do you even begin to address it if every user more or less has a completely different workstation environment from the next user? Different applications, different versioning, licensing, etc?
You should keep the user workstation environment consistent from the beginning. One good way to do this is through the use of Windows Deployment Services, which presents a method by which you can image computers from the start with standard applications and settings. Take a look at this process from TheSolving.com on how you can have a Windows Deployment Server set up and ready to go in less than an hour.
3. Leverage Group Policy
In a Windows domain environment – which will be the case most of the time – Group Policy objects are extraordinary tools at your disposal for accomplishing everything from installing software to creating user Home folders, to configuring security settings and beyond.
Earlier in my career, I serviced a client which constantly had issues with users losing connection to networked printers. No kidding, I reconnected printers for users multiple times a week – annoying for both them and for myself. This was before I knew anything about group policies. Nowadays, the very idea of constantly reconnecting network printers on a per-computer basis is quaint; just use a group policy to deploy the printers instead and barely ever have to think about them going forward.
The inefficient IT technician will spend upwards of 30 minutes configuring a new user’s computer with the proper network printers, files shares, security protocols, and ease-of-use settings. Meanwhile, the efficient technician has literally all of this already specified in the business GPOs – so they go get a cup of coffee and relax for 30 minutes instead. Or maybe they get back to work… I don’t know, I’m not a workplace psychologist – I’m just saying: there’s no need to spend time on tasks which can be completely automated with little possibility of error.
Success is found at the margins. Big projects are important; but neglecting the small tasks will undermine your ability to effectively serve clients on a day to day basis. Optimize your onboarding process and get your new users working effectively from day one – your clients will thank you for it!